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Corrections Officer Abuse at Rikers Island

Rikers Island is a large correctional facility complex located in the East River between the boroughs of Queens and the Bronx in New York City. It is one of the world's largest jail complexes. Rikers Island consists of ten separate jails, housing both male and female inmates. While the correctional system is designed to ensure security and rehabilitation, instances of abuse and neglect by corrections officers at Rikers Island have raised serious questions about the treatment of inmates and the need for justice. In fact, in a recent case, Tyreek Shuford, a detainee at Rikers was awarded $1,500,000 after suffering serious injuries from being assaulted by two corrections officers. At Stephen Bilkis & Associates, we are deeply committed to addressing this pressing issue, advocating for the rights of those who have suffered abuse at the hands of corrections officers at Rikers Island. If you or someone you know suffered harm due to being abused by a corrections officer while incarcerated at Rikers Island, contact an experienced New York corrections officer abuse lawyer at our office.

Types of Abuse at Rikers Island

Abuse at Rikers Island takes the form of physical abuse, sexual abuse, withholding medical treatment, and psychological abuse.

  • Sexual abuse. NBC News recently reported about a case of sexual abuse at Rikers Island where a 19-year-old female inmate was groped by a corrections officer and forced to perform oral sex on him. When the inmate attempted to resist the sexual abuse, she was accused of assaulting the corrections officer and sent to solitary confinement for a year. The inmate contacted an experienced New York corrections officer abuse lawyer to file a lawsuit against the corrections officer and Rikers Island on her behalf. Note that sexual abuse at Rikers is not restricted to male corrections officers abusing female inmate at Rose M. Singer Center—the women’s facility at Riker’s. A case was recently filed in which a former male inmate at Rikers filed a lawsuit alleging that a female corrections officer forced him to have sexual intercourse with her and perform oral sex on her. If he refused, she would retaliate against him. These lawsuits are not isolated cases. In the last few years alone, over 475 lawsuits have been filed against Rikers Island corrections officers alleging sexual abuse.
  • Physical abuse. Rikers Island also has a history of corrections officers physically abusing inmates. There have been reports of severe violence against inmates. In fact the rate of inmates deaths in Rikers is notable. According to the New York City Board of Correction, when force is used against inmates at Rikers, corrections officers are known to utilize improper head-strikes and violent body slams.
  • Failure to give proper medical care. Another type of inmate abuse at Rikers involves corrections officers failing to make sure that inmates receive proper medical attention. Inmates have a constitutional right to prompt and appropriate medical attention for injuries, pre-existing conditions, mental health issues, or general health issues. In a July 2022 incident, corrections officers waited 3-4 minutes before beginning chest compressions on an inmate who was found unresponsive. The inmate ended up dying from a drug overdose. If you or someone you know did not receive timely or proper medical care at Rikers Island, contact an experienced New York corrections officer abuse lawyer as inmates who suffer harm due to not receiving proper medical care might be eligible to file a personal injury or medical malpractice lawsuit and receive compensation.
  • Psychological abuse. One form of punishment or retaliation at Riker’s is to send inmates to solitary confinement for long periods of time. Studied confirm that extended time in solitary confinement can lead to long-term psychological harm. The harm that can result from extended time in solitary confinement was highlighted in the case of teenager Kalief Browder who spent over 17 months years in solitary. After he was finally released, he committed suicide. His family sued Rikers and received a $3.3 million settlement.
Why Corrections Officers Abuse Inmates

While there are various reasons that lead corrections officer to abuse inmates, there are never valid reasons or justification for such abuse. Every individual, regardless of their circumstances, has inherent rights that must be protected, and abuse within the criminal justice system is inexcusable.

  • Power Dynamics and Abuse. One key element contributing to inmate abuse is the inherent power dynamic within the correctional environment. Corrections officers are granted significant authority over inmates. They are supposed to use the authority to maintain order and to keep the inmates safe. However, far too often this authority is misused. The power imbalance can lead to abusive behavior as some officers exploit their authority to exert control or dominance over inmates. For example, in Tavares v. City of New York, 08 Civ. 3782 (JSR) (JCF) (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 19, 2010), Tavares, an inmate at George Motchan Detention Center at Rikers Island, questioned a corrections officer as to why the corrections officer touched him. In response, the corrections officer threw Tavares against the wall, spread his legs by kicking him violently on both of his ankles, and pressed his chest against the wall. As a result, Tavares suffered injuries. This abuse of power is a serious violation of the fundamental rights that every individual retains, regardless of their legal status.
  • Stress and Burnout. The role of a corrections officer is undoubtedly demanding, and it can be emotionally and psychologically taxing. The high-stress nature of the job, combined with long hours and challenging interactions, can lead to frustration and burnout. Unfortunately, some officers may vent this frustration through aggressive or abusive behavior toward inmates. While it's important to recognize the immense pressure they face, it's equally important to understand that this pressure can never justify abuse.
  • Poor Training. Inadequate training for corrections officers can have severe consequences, potentially leading to inmate abuse within correctional facilities. When officers are not adequately prepared to handle the complex challenges of their roles, the risk of abusive behavior increases significantly. Poor training can result in a lack of essential skills, such as conflict resolution, communication, and de-escalation techniques. In stressful and high-pressure situations, officers who lack these critical skills may resort to physical or verbal abuse as a way to exert control or manage challenging interactions. In addition, poor training can lead to failure to render proper first aid or medical care to sick or injured inmates.
  • Retaliation. Retaliation is a common reason that corrections officer abuse inmates. Some corrections officers feel that it is necessary to put inmates in their place for challenging their authority or for reporting abuse or violations of policy.
Inmates Have Rights and Recourse

It is important to note that inmates, despite their circumstances, maintain certain rights that demand protection. Abuse within the correctional system is a breach of these rights and must not be tolerated. Victims of inmate abuse have the right to seek justice, and they should not hesitate to contact an experienced New York corrections officer abuse lawyer who can help them navigate the legal process and hold abusive officers accountable.

Civil Liability for Abuse by Corrections Officers

In cases of abuse by corrections officers, victims often seek civil liability as a means to pursue justice and compensation for the harm they have endured. This process allows them to hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions and recover damages for their physical, emotional, and psychological injuries. Civil liability for abuse by corrections officers can take several forms:

  • Personal Injury Lawsuits: Victims of inmate abuse can file personal injury lawsuits against the abusive officers. These lawsuits typically allege negligence, excessive use of force, or deliberate misconduct. Successful plaintiffs may be awarded compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other damages.
  • Federal Civil Rights Violations: In cases where an inmate's constitutional rights have been violated, such as cases involving cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, they may pursue federal civil rights claims. These claims are often brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which allows victims to seek damages for violations of their civil rights.
  • Negligent Supervision Claim: Negligent supervision claims can be particularly relevant in cases of inmate abuse. They assert that the correctional institution, often represented by the state or local government, failed in its duty to adequately supervise and monitor its employees, leading to the abusive actions. These claims can result in additional compensation for victims.

Note that every case is unique, and the amount of compensation a victim may be entitled to can vary significantly. Factors like the severity of the abuse, the extent of injuries, and the available evidence all play a role in determining the potential compensation. To navigate this complex legal landscape and ensure the best possible outcome, victims of inmate abuse should seek the assistance of an experienced corrections officer abuse attorney in New York.

Rikers Island Verdicts and Settlements for Inmate Abuse and Neglect
  • April 2023. Estate of victim awarded $2,250,000 million in wrongful death lawsuit. On March 18, 2022, Herman Diaz, a 52-year-old detainee at Rikers Island jail, died after choking on an orange. Sonia Talavera, as the administrator of Diaz’s estate, filed a lawsuit against the city of New York and the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp. alleging civil rights violations. The allegations were based on claims that Rikers’ staff failed to properly supervise and assist Diaz, leading to his death. The plaintiff presented evidence that although Rikers has procedures for proper staffing and supervision of detainees, on the date that Diaz died, there was no officer on patrol in the area as required. As a result, no corrections officer trained in CPR was there to assist Diaz. In fact, other inmates attempted to revive Diaz and get help for him. Prior to trial, the plaintiff agreed to settle the case for $,250,000.
  • April 2022. Plaintiff awarded $1,5000,000 million jury verdict in an excessive for case. In October 2015, Plaintiff Tyreek Shuford suffered serious injuries after being assaulted by two corrections officers while he was detailed at Rikers. The entire incident was caught on videotape. Shuford used the two corrections officers as well as the city of New York, and the New York City Department of Corrections for violating his civil rights under Sections 1981 and 1983 of the Civil Rights Act. He sought damages for pain and suffering as well as punitive damages. The case went to trial. The jury awarded Shuford at total of $1.5 million. Of that amount, $500,000 was for compensatory damages and $1 million was for punitive damages. See Tyreek Shuford v. New York City, New York City Dept. of Corrections, Akeem Cardoza and Phanes Nervil, No. 17-cv-06349.
  • August 2020. Plaintiff awarded $5,900,000.00 in an negligent supervision case. On June 7, 2019, Layleen Cubilette-Polanco, an inmate at Rikers Island, died from a fatal epileptic seizure. At the time Cubilette-Polanco was in solitary confinement. Her mother, as administrator of Cubilette-Polanco's estate, filed a lawsuit against the prison's operator, the city of New York as well as several corrections officers and other prison staff. The plaintiff alleged that the Rikers and its staff were negligent in supervising Cubilette-Polanco and negligently authorized her solitary confinement. The plaintiff chose to name New York City as a defendant under a theory that the city should be held vicariously liable for the actions of its personnel, including staff at Rikers. In addition, the lawsuit alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 14th Amendment, and civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The city agreed to a pretrial settlement of $5.9 million.
Contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates

If you or a loved one has suffered inmate abuse at the hands of corrections officers at Rikers Island, do not hesitate to contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates. Our seasoned corrections officer abuse attorneys serving New York possess the knowledge and experience to help you navigate the legal process, identify liable parties, and seek the compensation you deserve. We understand the unique complexities of these cases and are dedicated to advocating for your rights. Your well-being matters, and we are committed to fighting for justice, accountability, and the compensation that can aid in your recovery. Contact us at 800.696.9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Suffolk County, Brooklyn, Long Island, Queens, Manhattan, Nassau County, Staten Island, Bronx, and Westchester County.

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